Migration in France - Statistics & Facts

Migration and migratory flows are sensitive and complex societal issues that unleash heated debate in the media and in French homes. As the subject is highly politicized, state data from France and different institutions in charge of the reception of migrants deserves a closer look. The immigrant population is diverse in terms of employment, origins and the reasons for leaving their home country.

The net migration curve fluctuated widely over the decade 2010-2019. However, the peak was not reached in 2015 during the refugee crisis. The difference between the number of emigrants and immigrants was highest in 2013. Long before this crisis, France has always welcomed foreigners, several waves have followed one another, such as the Spanish and Portuguese wave during the Iberian dictatorships and the North African wave during the Thirty Glorious Waves (Les Trente Glorieuses). Settled very heterogeneously on French territory, some regions are more ethnically mixed than others, such as the Ile-de-France, where nearly 19 percent of the population is foreign. Algerians are the most represented group of foreigners in France, with nearly 800,000 people.

Migrants and descendants of migrants are more affected by unemployment than the rest of the French population. All the same, migrants can be found in different trades, for example, in 2017, more than 13 percent of craftsmen, traders or business managers in France were foreigners. However, the direct descendants of immigrants suffer most from inactivity, their activity rate even lower than that of migrants. Gender and geographical origin also influence the chances of access to employment. Non-European foreign women are those most affected by unemployment.

The reasons for migration to France are in the vast majority of cases mainly due to family or university studies. Issuance of residence permits for economic reasons was very much in the minority in 2019. When foreigners are in an irregular situation on French soil, clandestine migrants have four options: continue in hiding, return voluntarily to their country, receive assistance for their return or be forcibly deported. Since 2013, assisted returns are noticeably less numerous than before.

Among the reasons invoked for obtaining a residence permit, more than 30,000 invoked a so-called "humanitarian" reason. This category includes what institutions call refugees, i.e. any person who has fled their country because of a fear of persecution or conflict requiring international protection. In 2015, Europe welcomed refugees fleeing the war in Syria. Unlike for its neighbours, few refugees arrived in France. That same year, 20,000 refugees were granted asylum, less than one per commune. In 2018, Afghans fleeing violence between the Taliban and local armed militias accounted for a fifth of migrants admitted as refugees.

What has been called "the migrant crisis" in France has aroused strong emotions among the French population. The subject divided citizens, with more than 80 percent of the French saying that it could not be discussed peacefully. Although the majority of the French consider their country having a responsibility to welcome migrants, they are a minority in thinking that France has the economic capacity to receive them.

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Migration in France

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